THE BLOG

Time For Tim To Go

11/06/2017 19:10
Chris J Ratcliffe via Getty Images

In the wake of the 2017 General Election, there is a consensus emerging. As the Labour Party celebrate their third consecutive defeat, and the Tories lick the wounds of their second catastrophic miscalculation in two years, the press are harping on about the return of two-party politics.

Looking at the popular vote, it's hard to argue with that conclusion. The big two parties accumulated 82.3% between them, the highest for 47 years. The post-mortems for both Labour and the Conservatives, who have both simultaneously lost and won, are on-going, but what should we make of the performance of my party, the Liberal Democrats?

The results were somewhat of a mixed-bag for the Britain's third party, whilst our vote share fell by half a percentage point, the party did improve its seat tally by 50%, resulting in the welcome returns of former Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, and Vince Cable among eight new Liberal MPs in the Commons.

Whilst our performance in key seats resulted in us increasing our parliamentary presence, and coming agonisingly close to at least three other seats, nationally the campaign was dismal. In seats where we didn't already have a foothold, we were brutally squeezed and have now limited our scope for future gains in the next few elections.

It seems an age ago but when the snap election was first called by the Prime Minister just over six weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats were being enthusiastically talked up by commentators. There was a genuine expectation that the Lib Dems could capitalise on the gaping chasm in the centre-ground of British politics, and coupled with their uniquely pro-EU stance, rocket back to relevance - but it never materialised.

Quite simply, during any period where the Conservative Party are pandering to the right-wing populists who used to populate Ukip and the Labour Party are imitating the TUSC, the Lib Dems should be hoovering up the gap in the centre, and be closer to 20% in the polls not 5%.

Frankly, the national campaign and more pertinently, Tim Farron's leadership has failed to restore the party to its former position. Of course, following the decimation in 2015, few would have thought a Lib Dem revival would be a quick and easy process but just two years later, the two large parties left the door wide open for us - and Farron failed to lead us through it.

Depressingly, the polling numbers from Lord Ashcroft's demographic exit poll tell the story for the Lib Dems better than I ever could. Just 50% of our 2015 vote was retained; just 14% of Remainers backed the party, 18% of "Brexit resisters" voted Lib Dem, whilst 57% of them backed a pro-Brexit Labour Party, and in our traditional stronghold, Cornwall, we are now the third party having been supplanted by Labour, and are a distant third behind two pro-Brexit parties with Remain voters.

The Liberal Democrats position is precarious still, before the campaign Tim Farron pledged to play the long game where the Liberal Democrats would seek to become the official opposition before forming a government of our own - this is still a long way off. But what is clear to me, in the wake of this election, it will be longer still if we don't appoint a leader who the public can legitimately view as an alternative Prime Minister.

I will give Tim Farron credit for his tenacity in the wake of the lowest ebb for the party, he worked tirelessly to get us back in the political picture, but fundamentally his own unpopularity means he cannot sustain his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Anecdotally speaking, many voters I know, were perturbed by Farron as a leader, he didn't inspire confidence in voters that he could lead the official opposition let alone a government. There is a reason he was the only elected Lib Dem MP to lose votes on Thursday. As well, his inability to quickly and effectively deal with the character assassination he faced at the start of the campaign meant he had been stuck with reputation of being a homophobe. Despite it not being true, perception is all that matters in elections.

Tim Farron can feel very proud of his efforts in leading the party, there is no doubt he gave it everything he had, but he simply doesn't have enough. We can only achieve Farron's commendable ambition of becoming one of the two major parties if we change the face of our brand, and do so now. It's all too clear that given the current electoral circumstances, the Liberal Democrats should be doing better - and we will do so with a new leader.

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